The Power of Nightmares takes off where Michael Moore's Fahrenheit
9/11 ends, meaning that the films documenting the relationship
between governments and terrorism are just getting better. Screened
first on the BBC last year and then last month at the 58th Cannes
Film Festival, The Power of Nightmares makes a strong case for
how governments need the nightmare of terrorism to remain in power.
that governments used to offer utopian dreams for a better world
but after the end of the Cold War, they were reduced to managing
the economy, as there wasn't anymore a competition of ideologies.
Hence, to preserve their position they need to instill fear in
the masses of extreme external threats.
simply, they have found a
grand dark force to protect people
against, and they can use the power
of the state to do this.
It is a mirror image of the positive
future they used to promise us.
But now it is a frightening future
they promise to protect us from."
puts it: "It would be impossible for Lyndon Johnson to make his
famous 'great society' speech today: that idea that politicians
can change the world would be laughed at. Of course, there is
massive social and economic progress, but it is no longer perceived
as having been produced by politicians. Politicians and politics
don't give meaning and purpose to our lives any longer, and this
has created a crisis of legitimacy for them.
" If all they offer is a better managerial style, then why
should we vote for them?
This is why I believe that politicians
have found in fear, a way of restoring their legitimacy. I do
not in any way think it is a conspiracy - they have simply stumbled
on it. Put simply, they have found a grand dark force to protect
people against, and they can use the power of the state to do
this. It is a mirror image of the positive future they used to
promise us. But now it is a frightening future they promise to
protect us from."
educator Said Qutb
Curtis builds his film's argument, that the rise of Eastern extremism
in the form of Muslim fundamentalism is balanced by the equally
rabid Western extremism in the form of neo-conservatism. Both
strands emerged after World War II. When Egyptian school inspector
and social theorist Said Qutb visited the US in 1949, he was appalled
by the selfish individualism and decadence that he saw. He resolved
that such a future must never take root in the Muslim world. Qutb's
disciples included Ayman Zawahari, who later became Osama Bin
at the same time, American philosopher Leo Strauss was teaching
University of Chicago students that progressive liberalism would
seed its own destruction. Strauss' pupils included Paul Wolfowitz,
the former Deputy Defence Secretary (one of the architects of
the War on Iraq) who is now the head of the World Bank.
Islamic fundamentalists who turned to terror to force people to
see the truth (of a need for a strict moral framework for modern
society), the neo-conservatives believed that America had a destiny
to battle evil in the world. In short, both groups believed in
details how Al-Qaeda was
a figment of American imagination
when the US Justice Department
created the term to prove
the existence of a terrorist network
in order that they could try Bin Laden
in absentia in early 2001,
for the Kenyan bombings in 1998.
In the second
part, Curtis shows how the neo-conservatives built up the power
of the Muslim fundamentalist counterparts by providing arms and
training (for example, techniques of car bombs) during the Russian
occupation of Afghanistan. Here, you can see archival footage
of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 1976. Yes, all these guys
were building their power base way back then.
the final part, Curtis details how Al-Qaeda was a figment of American
imagination when the US Justice Department created the term to
prove the existence of a terrorist network in order that they
could try Bin Laden in absentia in early 2001, for the Kenyan
bombings in 1998.
also priceless footage of Rumsfeld looking solemn during a 2001
news report detailing the high-tech Al-Qaeda headquarters in the
Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan. The British and US forces
later found a bunch of dusty holes with rusty ammunition and animal
droppings. Neither did they find weapons of mass destruction in
been one of the BBC's leading documentarists with titles such
as The Mayfair Set, which looked at how capitalists were allowed
to shape the Thatcher years and The Century of the Self, which
connected Freud and the power of Western consumerism. Before that,
Curtis was teaching politics at Oxford.
of Nightmares is destined to be one of the essential films of
this era and because it is so clear sighted, it will be dismissed
by many in the media. In a similar fashion, Emile de Antonio,
one of the great American political documentarists was summarily
dismissed in the Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion as an "experimental
documentarist with a pink tendency." Yet de Antonio's Year of
the Pig (1969) predicted why the Americans would lose the Vietnam
War (because the Vietnamese were fighting a war of independence
and not a war for communist ideology), but the film is largely
forgotten now. However, its influence is unmistakeable. The film's
poster image was the album cover of The Smiths' Meat Is Murder
of Nightmares leaves us with two lingering thoughts. As Curtis
said: "The reality of Islamist terrorism is that it is disparate
and complex, driven by an idea and not by an organisation." He
also points out: "The reality is that there are many new elites
in business, science and the media who are creating the new progressive
visions, and the age of politics as a system that gave meaning
and vision to society may be dying."